Tides of change: Energy firm unwraps first-of-its-kind turbines in Bath

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BATH — What was billed as the first all-composite hydrokinetic turbine built in the U.S. was unveiled last week.

Christopher Sauer, chief executive officer of Ocean Renewable Power Co., presented the device at the U.S. Windblade facility on Old Town Landing Road in a ceremony that drew business partners, collaborators, legislators and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

“In these economic times, it’s kind of unusual to have good news, but in fact we have good news today,” Sauer said. He added that Maine’s ocean energy industry is “alive and growing,” and that the turbine displayed behind him was evidence of that.

The turbine was to be shipped to Cobscook Bay in Eastport this week to be incorporated into Portland-based ORPC’s turbine energy unit, which runs with two turbines. The unit, which weighs 13 tons and is 46 feet wide and 14 feet tall, is to be attached to a 60-foot barge. It will be deployed 21 feet below water, and its peak generating capacity is 60 kilowatts.

ORPC hired U.S. Windblade to build the turbines. Keith Burgess, president and co-founder of the 3-year-old fabricator, said U.S. Windblade specializes in the design and manufacturing of blades for wind and water turbines.

“We started out under-funded, and some of the promised funding that we had never came through, so this (contract) was very opportune for us keeping the doors open,” said Burgess, whose company has four full-time employees.

ORPC calls itself one of the few companies in the world to produce energy from ocean currents without the use of impoundments or dams. The company plans late this year to install its first grid-connected, full-scale tidal generator unit in Maine, followed next year by river and tidal devices in Alaska.

The development of clean energy is “a big topic” in Washington and across the U.S., Pingree said, “and for the last five years ORPC has been doing that, building a company that is a key component in the energy industry here in our state. Already they have created or preserved over 80 jobs in eight counties in our state, and injected millions of dollars into the state economy.”

She noted that when the turbines are producing electricity in Eastport’s waters, they will take the place of energy that is currently mostly generated by burning oil, “and was probably imported at great expense from halfway around the world, most likely from a country that doesn’t really like us.”

Instead of sending hard-earned dollars out of state, Pingree asked, would it not make more sense “to use the Maine ingenuity and the resources we have right here?”

Bath City Council Chairman Bernard Wyman read a proclamation from the city to ORPC and U.S. Windblade. It said the city “recognizes that the tides of change are bringing to the forefront the need to have affordable renewable energy, and to stop the decline of our natural resources both here and around the world.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

Sidebar Elements

Christopher Sauer, chief executive officer of Ocean Renewable Power Co., last week presented what he said was the first all-composite hydrokinetic turbine built in the country. It was manufactured for ORPC in Bath by U.S. Windblade.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.